We are the largest experiment in multiethnic democracy the world has ever seen — just approaching 250 years old. We’re 150 years removed from a civil war whose wounds still bleed. The Civil Rights Act — banning discrimination in professional and public life — was passed 54 years ago. Great public movements, many that have required protest and civil disobedience, have resulted in progressive legislation that has defined and made us a better nation.
But laws aren’t always successful in changing attitudes and beliefs of individuals. They often result in retrenchment of the very ideas they aim to codify out of society.
Individuals and attitudes change as a result of real human interaction. When we get to know our neighbor whose culture is different than ours. When our kids play on the same soccer team. When we take a moment to listen to our colleagues who come from different backgrounds. When we get fresh air outside of our echo chambers.
Elections, policy, and legislation are still critical, but we can’t stop there. We need to do the hard work every day, in our own hearts and minds, and in our daily interactions with others. If we want a truly inclusive, progressive nation, it’s much more than politics. It’s the hard work of engaging people, day in and day out, to create opportunities for understanding.
The news has been nauseating. It’s like we’ve opened Pandora’s box and released all our worst inclinations into the public square. I reminded myself of one part of the Pandora myth this morning — hope remained in the jar (box) after the evil was released into the world. Hope needs our help right now. We have to find the goodness, beauty, and progress that still abound in the world, shadowed by the specter of these unleashed demons. We have to help hope regain her rightful place at the front of our lives, our communities, and our nation. That means lifting up the good we find. That means respecting *all* of our neighbors. That means being active in civil life, exercising our obligation to vote for hope not division. And it means challenging Pandora’s minions when they cross our daily paths.
I’ve been meaning to write this for a while now. It’s been swirling in my brain, heart, and gut for quite a while, but every time I feel like I’m close to putting fingers to keyboard, I shy away, worried of the reaction from all sides.
It’s a sensitive topic, you see. A white guy writing to other white guys about being a white guy in today’s society and culture.
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I wake up early to have an intentional, unhurried start to my day. My first stop is the coffee maker. I’m not even sure that I like coffee anymore, but it’s how I start my day. The comfort of the cup in hand, the slow process of sipping its warmth.
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While talking to scouts last night about respecting the American flag, some of their questions led to a great discussion about our American right to free speech — specifically how the government can’t prevent any citizen from expressing his or her ideas even when those ideas make us feel extremely uncomfortable or unwelcome. As long as the expression is not a direct threat to personal or public safety or inciting violence, it has as much right to the public square as ours do. The second we start to limit speech, we’ve sacrificed one of the greatest of our founding ideals.
The way to counter ideas we find reprehensible is not squelching or drowning them, but by presenting a better alternative.
As I flew out of DC today and looked back down our National Mall, I imagined all the young people that would fill the spaces in between the monuments and buildings in the hours to come. I remembered how Marine One darted over my head by the Washington Monument yesterday, carrying the president to a Mar-A-Lago-bound Air Force One. It struck me that those who create a meaningful life are those who SHOW UP. Not just for the main event, but who continue to work, to learn, to improve themselves, and to give, day in and day out.
I applaud and am awed at all the young people who showed up in our capitol and around the country today. You showed up to the big event. Now continue to show up every day. In your classes. In your communities. In the voting booths. In your own hearts. In everything you do.
A while back when I was talking to a female friend (who’s an avowed progressive) about the possibility of running for office, she looked at me very seriously and said,
“You’re the perfect white guy.”
What she meant was that I did a reasonably good job of standing up for people that aren’t straight, white, and male while looking very much like I wouldn’t. A donkey in elephant’s clothing, I joked.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about this since that day, and have realized that there are a lot of straight, white men just like me. We understand the advantage inherent in who we are. We welcome diversity of culture and opinion into our lives. We intervene when we see overt injustice.
But, yet, in today’s world, we’re also seen as the root of all problems. The oppressors, the 1%, the privileged. That creates an almost untenable conundrum in how to navigate our current progressive political culture.
I don’t intend this as any sort of sob fest for straight, white guys. Far from it. I know exactly how good I (and we) have it. It just makes me wonder how effective it is to amplify the far left’s “white male privilege is the root of all evil” mantra when there are plenty of white men who are standing squarely on the side of justice.
Perhaps it’s time we cool down the rhetoric and ideology and start engaging each other as individuals instead of labels.
I watched Wonder Woman with breakfast and coffee this morning. Combined with last week’s Black Panther, I’m heartened by the different looks our superheros are getting in today’s pop culture. Both movies did a great job at exposing our human imperfection and history of violence — but also our unending optimism that we can rise above it. Perhaps that’s why superhero movies strike such a chord with us. They remind us of our possibility.
My mind is still churning from last night’s scout meeting where we discussed bullying and personal protection. My scouts are all sixth graders. It’s hard to wrap my brain around how complex these kids’ lives are compared to my sixth grade experience. Cyber bullying wasn’t even possible. Active shooter drills unfathomable.
I left them with one simple entreaty.
“It’s really easy as a human being to let yourself be unkind. It comes naturally to us for some reason … but so does kindness. Choose kindness.”
Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Interspersed with the sounds of panic.
The sounds from inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day.
The sounds so common that we instantly know what they are.
The sounds of an assault rifle shredding lives in another mass shooting in our country.
As the father of a high school student, each pop cuts through my soul, knowing that there’s nothing to prevent the same thing in our community.
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